NAPOLEON — A local customer entered Spengler’s Restaurant on a recent weekday afternoon and saw owner Chery Weideman sitting at a table near the front door.
“What do you got going on today?” the customer asked.
“We’re talking about the 125-year anniversary celebration,” Ms. Weideman answered, nodding at the reporter across the table.
“Yep, coming up!” responded the customer.
Spengler’s celebrates its 125th anniversary of continuous operation in Napoleon this Saturday with an outdoor festival along Perry Street between Clinton and Washington streets. The festival is taking place a few weeks before the restaurant’s actual anniversary of Sept. 8 — the date in 1892 when William Spengler moved the restaurant to its current location.
“We [span] three centuries,” Ms. Weideman, 56, said. “That’s crazy when you stop and think about it.”
William Spengler started his original business in 1879 in a building across the street from its current location. His partner was Gustave Kohler.
When he re-opened in 1892, the site included a grocery store in the front half of the building and a bar or “saloon” in the back half where food and spirits were served.
In 1894, Mr. Spengler sold the business to his younger brother Ernest. Despite the arrival of prohibition in 1920 outlawing the production and sale of alcohol, Spengler’s remained in business.
Hundreds of farmers were known to stop at the saloon for a sandwich and cold beer on a hot summer’s day and socialize with friends. After prohibition went into effect, non-alcoholic beer was sold.
“He stayed in business because it was a gathering place in town and still is,” Ms. Weideman said. “That’s the one thing that’s kept Spengler’s going is that it’s continuing to be the gathering place.”
Business continued for Ernest before he passed away in 1949. Fred Freppel and Bill Schuldt became business partners before Mr. Freppel took complete ownership 10 years later.
Spengler’s nearly closed its doors in 1975 after neighboring Community Bank wanted to purchase the property with plans to demolish the building and construct a parking lot.
After opposition from outraged citizens — 3,500 people signed a petition against the plan — the bank gave up its fight.
“They fought the bank and won,” Ms. Weideman said. “How cool is that? The history of Spengler’s is unbelievable.”
Several years later, Mr. Freppel passed away in 1978 and his wife, Rozella, took over duties. Another couple, John and Connie Wulff, took ownership in 1985, before today’s owner, Ms. Weideman, bought the restaurant in 2002 from Steve Weber, who owned Spengler’s in the late 1990s.
“When I bought Spengler’s and everyone asked me if I was going to change the name I said, ‘Now that would be insanity. It’s been a business for how long? We are continuing as Spengler’s; we are doing what William Spengler set out to do,’” she said. “I think he’s dancing in his grave right now. I think he's pretty proud, and on [Saturday] we’ll be dancing on the street.”
The building has remained largely unchanged over the decades, except for the addition of a few fryers and grills. Even some of the original recipes remain, like Spengler’s famous bean and ham soup. That’s not to mention the restaurant’s staple “Two On Rye,” two hot dogs served on two slices of rye bread, a favorite that dates to the restaurant’s early years — and, of course, its beer on tap.
“We have a lot of the old recipes and sandwiches; everyone loves them so I’m not changing them,” Ms. Weideman said.
Other menu items such as hamburgers, soups, salads, and chili are what keep Lowell Petzoldt of Napoleon coming back to the restaurant at least once a month with his wife since the couple moved to Henry County from Missouri 40 years ago.
“It’s a friendly environment; everybody knows everybody,” Mr. Petzoldt, 63, said. “When people from out of state [visit Napoleon] they always bring them to Spengler’s as something to remember from Napoleon. It represents the town very well. The nostalgia is here. People love coming here, and the reception is beautiful.”
Bob Bauer, 70, also of Napoleon, remembers working at the business 50 years ago when Mr. Freppel was the owner.
Mr. Bauer worked in the saloon section in the back of Spengler’s and remembers the younger employees working up front in the grocery section. He is now a loyal customer.
“[Fred Freppel] was a great guy and had a great family and they were all dedicated to help,” he said. “Over the years with different owners they took care of the place. Chery Weideman takes care of her people, and they're dedicated to her. I had a good time working there, and I enjoy going in there.”
While the festival is free to the public, donations will be collected for two local charities: Together We Can Make A Difference Initiatives and PiLLars Of Success. Both organizations provide temporary housing and other resources for those in need.
Kelli Burkhardt, executive director of Together We Can Make A Difference Initiatives, said Spengler’s has been a supporter of the organization since the organization’s doors opened in 2010.
“[Raised money] is being spent right back here in Henry County,” Ms. Burkhardt said. “We appreciate all the community support we’ve gotten.”
Ms. Weideman said Spengler’s continues to be a gathering place in the local community, just as it was in the 1800s, 1900s, and, now, 2000s.
“My staff works their butts off to take care of our guests,” she said. “Let us give you our best and you give us your best; that’s all anyone can ask for. [From] William Spengler on up, that’s been everybody’s philosophy.”
Spengler’s celebration of 125 years in the same building is from noon to 11 p.m. along Perry Street in Napoleon. Live music, beer and food trucks, bean bag toss tournament, and fund-raiser will also take place. For more information, call Spengler’s at 419-592-0811.
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